And so another academic year comes to an end. For the College of Music, it was a particularly productive year – we graduated 94 students, coincidentally on the 94th commencement exercises of our college held on the 22nd of June, 2018. These graduates include 14 cum laude, 3 magna cum laude and a summa cum laude, Raoul Carlo F. Angangco (Miggy) who got a Weighted Average Grade (WAG) of 1.1189 for the degree of Bachelor of Music, Choral Conducting. We also graduated our very first batch of PhDs – Dr. Sandy Iñigo Chua, Dr. Awirut Totham and Dr. Arwin Tan. Allow me to share with you the opening remarks I delivered on that ceremony we titled “Paglalayag”.
The College of Music will always be your home. But today, we're sending you off on your voyage... a voyage that we hope we have prepared you for. Your home, this college, is an island. Out there is a vast ocean waiting for you.
Yes, this college, and the university, for that matter, is an island - one may say a cognitive island. Here, your mentors dedicated their time, abilities and the best of their knowledge to prepare you for this day. With sincerity, and passion, we imparted to you the truth as we know and believe it to be. But the college is an island, and here, our perception of the truth is hampered by our isolation. This isolation has created a kind of echo chamber where our ideas, voices and expressions bounce back and forth against the island's cliffs and canyons bombarding you day in day out.
If there is one last lesson that I will impart to you today, it is to be aware that we exist within filter bubbles. All information that reach us pass through screens that allow or block certain types of data. And the inventions that we thought would democratize knowledge end up reinforcing the walls that further isolate us. Take for instance the internet... the open sea of information that we freely surf everyday - or so we thought.
Here's an experiment I borrow from a Ted Talk by Eli Pariser, president of MoveOn.org. Take two friends, preferably of different upbringing, say a Christian and a Buddhist. Have them google an item, say “the best books of the year”. Don't be surprised if Google churns out a different list of results for each. You probably already know that this is caused by algorithms that selectively guess what you would like to see in your searches, your timelines and the spam you get –what we call filter bubbles. You end up with a version of the truth that matches who Google, or Facebook, or Instagram think you are.
What the internet is in the 21st century, the university was since the 11th century, and, culture and religion were since pre-history: cognitive islands, echo chambers, filter bubbles.
In the mission-vision of our college, we imagine this day as the time to send you out into the world so you can change it through sound, movement and ideas. But you see, island boys and girls, here, in isolation, we think we sound good. We think we have awesome moves. We think we are smart. Let us tweak that mission-vision: go out into that world not to change it, but to allow it to change you. And maybe then, your sounds, your movements and your ideas will have true meaning. Break free from this echo chamber. Blast that filter bubble. Sail away from this island.
And so here you are today. Each of you has a different story about how you finally ended up here this morning. For some of you, it was a walk in the park and today, we will acknowledge those among you who have shown outstanding achievements. To others, as one of you placed in your fb status, getting here was an emotional roller coaster ride. To some a road paved with tears - yours, and your teachers – and your parents. Some of you, getting here was by sheer luck, or by prayers. However you got here, guess what? For each of you here, he ocean will be just as deep, at times treacherous, at times beguiling and serene. Some of you will choose to stay here to pursue the next degree… we are happy to keep you for a little more time. But for most of you, the voyage begins today.
To you, our dear parents, family members and emotional support system… you deserve the words of congratulations for your tenacity and unwavering confidence in the capability of your children. Thank you for entrusting them to us in the last 3, 4, 5 years… 9 years for some. To you, dear professors, mentors, advisers and staff, thank you for journeying with this class. Today, it’s time to let go. So go ahead bid them farewell, blow them a kiss – blow as hard as you can to help push that sailboat a little.
To you, dear graduates, just a couple more pabaon. You know how they say that in order to succeed in life, you need to experience failures first? My advice is for you is to go ahead and fail quickly, but fall with grace, so you can rise back up to keep on going. But sir Verne, I have already failed too many times – well that just means you’re ahead of the pack.
And one more. Don’t regard anything as sacred, especially the things that we taught you. Let the world be your teacher now… learn to accept new truths, even if they go against what we have taught you… learn music from the world.
Go. Sail away.